Syria: Kurdish prisoners of conscience must be immediately released
Press release, 09/01/2004

Amnesty International urges the Syrian authorities to immediately release eight Syrian Kurdish activists who will be tried on Sunday for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International appeals to the authorities to equally release all other detainees held on the same grounds.

"These men are prisoners of conscience who were held solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression," said Amnesty International.

All eight men - Mohammad Mustafa, Khaled Ahmed 'Ali, Sherif Ramadhan, 'Amr Mourad, Salar Saleh, Hosam Mohammad Amin, Husayn Ramadhan and Mas'ud Hamid - have reportedly been beaten up and ill-treated in detention. Seven are held in cells of 1m x 1.5m, while Mohammad Mustafa, a lawyer, is being held in a cell which is said to be a toilet of 80cm x 80cm.

The men are held for participating in a peaceful demonstration on 25 June, outside the UNICEF headquarters in Damascus. They will appear before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC), whose trial procedures Amnesty International considers to be grossly unfair.

"It is Syria's duty to respect the legitimate rights of its Kurdish and other minorities," said Amnesty International.

Two other Syrian Kurdish detainees, Hassan Saleh, 61, and Marwan 'Uthman, have been held incommunicado for more than one year. They have been denied visits by lawyers, relatives and doctors. Like the eight men named above, they are reported to be held in 'Adra prison, outside Damascus.

Both Saleh and 'Uthman were arrested on 15 December 2002, five days after participating in a peaceful demonstration in Damascus that called for greater protection for the rights of Syrian Kurds. They were first charged with "membership of an unauthorized organization" and then with "inciting sectarian strife". The SSSC reportedly added a further charge of "attempting to sever a part of the Syrian territories". If convicted, they could be jailed for life.

Another Syrian Kurdish detainee and possible prisoner of conscience, Idris 'Abdel Hamid, was arrested on 21 December 2003 for participating in a demonstration outside the Aleppo Military Court. He is being held in incommunicado detention at an unknown location. He was demonstrating in support of 14 men, arrested by the police in August 2003 and being tried for attending a lecture marking the 40th anniversary of the declaration of the state of emergency in Syria. Amnesty International is also calling for the dropping of all charges against these 14 men, who include two former prisoners of conscience.

Torture and ill-treatment is still believed to be routinely inflicted on some detainees while they are held incommunicado in Syrian prisons and detention centres. Khalil Mustafa, a Syrian Kurd, was arrested on 6 August 2003, reportedly in connection with an alleged debt. On 14 August, his body was handed over to his family. Khalil Mustafa had apparently died as a result of torture while held in the Military Intelligence Detention Centre in Aleppo. According to reports, the body had serious injuries, including a broken leg, a missing eye and a fractured skull.

The Syrian authorities impose heavy restrictions on the production and circulation of Kurdish literature, including books and music. In the past, the Syrian authorities have arrested and detained Syrian Kurds without charge for their involvement in the organization of Kurdish cultural activities, including the Kurdish Nawruz (New Year) celebrations.

Eight prominent human rights activists and prisoners of conscience, sentenced to up to 10 years' imprisonment after unfair trials in 2002, also remain held in solitary confinement at 'Adra prison. They were involved in the growing civil society movement known as the 'Damascus Spring' before being arrested in a government crackdown. A ninth activist and prisoner of conscience, 'Abdel Rahman al-Shaghouri has been detained since 23 February 2003, reportedly charged with offences connected to his use of the Internet and sending news stories to his friends.

Amnesty International considers trials held before the SSSC to be grossly unfair. In April 2001, the Human Rights Committee - the body of experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - expressed concern about the procedures of the SSSC. They stated that these procedures were incompatible with the provisions of the ICCPR, to which Syria is a state party.